Tell Us We’re Home by Marina Budhos is a unique novel aimed at older middle-grade or teen readers about three girls who are daughters of maids and nannies in a wealthy town where most of their classmates are from the families for whom their mothers work. It’s an interesting perspective on immigrants that I’d never considered before, and I enjoyed the novel.
Jaya, Maria, and Lola were all born in different countries but now live in the same small town in New Jersey. Each of them felt alone and isolated until she met the other two, and the three of them became instant friends because they had so much in common in spite of their vastly different cultural backgrounds. Their mothers all work for local families as maids and nannies, which leaves the girls each feeling very different from most of her classmates. The three become fast friends, saving coins to buy a milkshake to share, walking back from school together, and confiding in each other about the difficulties of being poor in a wealthy town.
Finding each other was a turning point for each of the girls, but life proves to be even more challenging than they expected. Jaya’s mother is accused of theft and loses two of her jobs. Maria is worried about her cousin, who is embroiled in a battle over the local playing fields where he and his friends want to play soccer – a battle that threatens to involve the entire town. Lola worries about her father’s unending depression and his inability to find work as an engineer, as he had back in Slovakia, while the bills pile up and her mother’s health worsens. Although the three friends share a lot with each other, each of their own problems threatens to pull them apart and get in the way of their friendship.
I enjoyed this novel for several reasons. It deals with a topic that I’d never really thought about before – what life is like for recent immigrants in the U.S. today, especially kids who are dumped into an unfamiliar environment at a time in their lives when they are struggling with ordinary adolescent issues, like self-image, confidence, and identity. I also liked that it didn’t over-simplify the issues. There are no easy answers to the complex problems that plague these three friends and no tidy happily-ever-after at the end. Certainly, they do resolve some of their worst problems and come to realize they can rely on each other, but deeper cultural and community issues remain, just like in real life.
My only complaint about Tell Us We’re Home was some uneven editing throughout, and especially toward the end. There were minor inconsistencies, places where the action suddenly jumped somewhere else, and other petty annoyances. For instance, in one chapter, the girls are drinking hot chocolate and then a sentence later it says that one girl held her hot mug of tea. Like I said, these were minor problems, indicative of sloppy editing, that were easy for me to overlook since the story itself was so engaging.
All in all, this is a warm, tender, thought-provoking story about immigrants, cultural differences, community, and mostly, friendship.